Rocker Ronnie Radke is out of prison and ready to make his musical mark again
Thu, May 5, 2011 (12:07 a.m.)
Photo: Ashley Ellwood
Ronnie Radke has lived a lifetime over the past seven years. After signing to a legendary record label, the singer was on the cusp of mega-success when his reckless behavior cost him everything—his gig, his bandmates, even his freedom. Now he’s out of prison, back to making music and determined to do it all differently this time.
In 2004, Radke formed the melodic post-hardcore band Escape the Fate with Mojave High School buddies Max Green (bass) and Robert Ortiz (drums), along with guitarists Omar Espinosa and Bryan “Monte” Money. The quintet quickly developed a following on the strength of its keyboard and metal-tinged music with emotionally searing lyrics. Radke was a willowy frontman, whose magnetic personality and glam-rock style lent theatrical flair to the band’s performances.
ETF caught the ear of renowned punk label Epitaph Records, which soon signed it to a record deal. The quintet recorded a 2006 EP, There’s No Sympathy for the Dead, and a follow-up debut later that year, Dying Is Your Latest Fashion, with respected producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette. The latter reached No. 12 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart.
With the band on the verge of breaking out, however, Radke’s drug problems and legal troubles threatened to derail its progress. The incident that unraveled everything: a May 2006 altercation in a desert lot near Shadow Ridge High School that ended with one young man dead by gunshot and another seriously injured (a third later committed suicide while facing felony charges stemming from the fight). Radke was present when the shooting took place but was never accused of firing a gun himself. In January 2008, he pled guilty to one charge of battery with substantial bodily harm and was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in restitution and enter a drug rehabilitation treatment program. That August, Radke violated his probation and went to prison.
By then, Escape the Fate had replaced the controversial singer with Craig Mabbitt, formerly of Christian screamo band Blessthefall. Radke spent the next two-and-a-half years inside High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs while ETF continued on with one more Epitaph album and another for Interscope. Through it all, however, Radke retained an army of loyal supporters, who criticized Escape the Fate’s decision to go on without him and waited for his return to the stage.
That frenzy has only increased since Radke’s December release. Now fronting new band Falling in Reverse, Radke has reunited with Baskette—with whom the group recorded in Orlando—and with Epitaph, which will put out Falling in Reverse’s debut album at a date to be determined.
On the phone from Florida, the 27-year-old Radke sounds confident and clear-headed, revealing that he’s no longer living in Las Vegas (according to an even more recent tweet, he’s now in California) and that Falling in Reverse’s first show should occur in Las Vegas at the “end of August, Septemberish.”
What was prison like?
It’s horrible—the worst place ever. There’s riots and people getting stabbed … just not a good place to be, especially when you have a little bit of fame, you know?
Did people treat you better or worse because of who you are?
Some would treat me better, and some would treat me worse. Like, some of the guards really liked me, and they asked me to sign some stuff for ’em, for the kids. And some of the guards fricking hated me. They just hated me, more than the other inmates. Some of them would treat me really bad. I think it was a little bit of a jealousy thing.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
That’s the frightening thing. They’re the ones feeding you. By the way, the food in prison was disgusting. Like, baked beans every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What kept you going?
I think it was the fan letters. If it wasn’t for the fans, I don’t think I would have been able to keep my composure that whole time. You’d see a lot of inmates freaking out, banging on the doors. [But] I got mail every day.
How many letters did you get?
There were so many that they made me throw some away because they couldn’t take all of them in the van, when they drove me back [out]. They were like, “We can’t fit all of this in the van.” I have three big boxes of thousands of letters that I kept.
Were most of them positive?
All of them. Never had a bad one, literally.
Do you think about prison life a lot?
Yeah. I still have my blanket from prison. I’m literally holding it right now.
Why did you take it with you?
Because I knew that I’d be on tour, and every time I lay down with it at night, I’ll remember the reason. I don’t ever want to go back to prison.
Are you in any way glad that you went to jail?
Oh yeah. I would have never been able to write this good of a record if I didn’t go. I’m very happy, because now I’m clean. I’ve been clean for a long time now. If I hadn’t gone away, I would never have changed. I’d probably be dead. I’d probably have died onstage or something.
Have people treated you differently since you’ve been out?
That’s why I don’t live in Vegas anymore. I would do whatever it takes not to go back to my old ways. It gets lonely, but I’d rather be lonely than fall back into drugs and the people … certain people that pull you down there. There’s a lot of people I know. I don’t want to bump into any of my old friends and run the risk of relapsing.
The first couple of months, certain friends weren’t really treating me like friends [should]. Like, every night, [there was] too much drinking and people coming over just to meet me. I had just gotten out [of prison]. I needed my alone time. But certain people weren’t giving me that respect. I just looked at that and I was like, you know what, I’m never coming back here when I leave. This is ridiculous.
I also didn’t want to live in a town where I know I have a couple of people that really don’t like me because of my past. And I wish that they wouldn’t hate me, because I’m not the main reason why that whole case happened and why I went to jail. I’m the reason I went to jail, because of my karma, what I did to other people when I was high. But I wish that they could at least forgive me for being in the desert at that time. I should have never shown up there. I really should not have ever gotten into that car.
Do you think about that day often?
I thought about it a lot in prison, and then I healed. It healed me. I don’t feel guilty anymore. The guilt was that prison sentence hanging over my head, and when I was released it felt like the world was lifted off my shoulders.
Besides not going to the desert, what do you wish you had done differently?
I wish I would have pleaded guilty immediately, and I wish the judge would have never given me probation and just sent me to prison immediately. That’s what I would have done. Because the timing was wrong. I was too high. I was too high to have any type of creative mind.
Have you talked to or run into anybody from Escape the Fate since you’ve been out?
All of a sudden, they want to be friends. “Let’s wave some white flags, peace”—that’s what they want. “Are you doing a record right now? Ohhh. Let’s be friends.” No, no, no, no, no. Let’s be friends after this record comes out. They make a whole album called This War Is Ours, and then they try to say, “We didn’t name that album after you, dude.” Which in fact, they did …
I could be wrong; they could be talking about the war on terrorism or something. I don’t know. But I just have a feeling that record name was about me. They talk a lot of shit. It is always about forgive and forget, but there’s some things that I would like to say. So I did. On the record. I think a lot of kids are going to be like, “Oooooh, rewind that.”
The Ronnie/Craig debate seems to be raging as strong as ever.
I think it got stronger, ’cause I got out. I materialized; I’m actually a real human being again. Because no one had seen me in so long. Now that they actually know that I exist again, it’s not like a myth. And then it just gets stronger and stronger, because I keep tweeting (laughs). My record’s about to come out, and I think a lot of diehard fans have been waiting for it for a really long time.
I feel very blessed. I don’t think many people get second chances when it comes to the music scene. It’s a fast-paced music scene now; people forget quicker than they did back in the day.
You wrote your new [Falling In Reverse] songs while you were in jail. How did that influence the way they turned out?
I would think all day, for days and days, [about] what people would want to hear. I would dissect my old album and read all the fan letters and the reasons why they loved my band and why they listened to it. And I wrote about that, but in different ways. I don’t know why these kids love the tragedies that I write about. I guess they can relate to it.
When this new [Falling in Reverse] record comes out, people are going to be blown away. I know it in my heart. It’s got pop elements … in the same songs it sounds like Norma Jean or Underoath with Katy Perry choruses. A couple really pop choruses with ridiculous, out-of-nowhere, “How do they do that?”-type stuff. There’s a lot of synth, but it’s not overdone. I do a lot of talking in between.
Lyrics or spoken-word?
I talk a lot of shit, which I think is appropriate for most of the songs. Like, there’s a really heavy song on the record and in the bridge it has an Eminem/Dr. Dre beat sample, with breakdowns in it. I wouldn’t know how to explain it … gangsta rap with breakdowns? I don’t rap, though. I don’t rap on anything.
Are you nervous about the reception it might get?
I’m confident in it. Compared to other bands that have gone off the deep end with their sound, you know, I’m very confident. I did not go off the deep end; it just improved. It’s really good.
What was the biggest difference making an album sober?
I made Dying Is Your Latest Fashion sober, but I wasn’t sober long enough. I got clean just to do that record, so this was a big difference. My head’s way clearer now. I hear things a lot different. I was very picky. I’d pick apart little things that no one would else would notice.
Do you expect a lot of scrutiny?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a lot of weight on my shoulders. But we’ll see, won’t we? To be honest with you, I’m kind of nervous. [But] the amazing thing is, when I listen to the record, I never question it. I never [ask myself], is that going to be okay? Every time I listen to it, I’m like, oh my God, this is amazing.
I’ve never seen [producer] Elvis [Baskette] so stoked. He told me this is the most important record he’s ever done. For him to say that makes me feel really good. He was like a little kid after every vocal session, dancing around—he was so stoked on it.
It must feel good having someone like that stand by you through everything you’ve been through.
Yeah, sometimes I think he believes in me more than I believe in myself. When I went to Florida and went into the vocal booth, I hadn’t sang loud in two-and-a-half or three years. I had to be quiet in prison; I had to whisper-sing the songs. And the first day I sang, it was like, nope, no way, no way. It sounded like shit. We were just doing scratch vocals, and I was so nervous. And then Elvis was like, “You just have to find your true voice again. We’ll eventually get it.” And by the fourth day, I found it again. He brought it out of me.
What do you think it’ll feel like to get back onstage?
Ohhh myyy God. I don’t know. That is crazy. That is going to be crazy. Ooh, I don’t even want to think of it. It makes me emotional thinking about that. Oh my God, it’s going to be crazy.